Tom Kerry, Les Evans and Mao

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Wed Oct 18 09:16:39 MDT 2000


<<<At the recent conference on American Trotskyism, I learned from Richard
Fidler that Les Evans, a younger party leader of the 1960s and a serious China
scholar, found it impossible to have a rational discussion with [Tom] Kerry.
Even the slightest concession to the Chinese Communists would result in a tirade
from the cranky old man.>>>

Perhaps I should explain. The difference between Les Evans and Tom Kerry (as I
learned of it via Les, in the mid-1970s) was essentially over the relative
weight that should be given to (a) studying the particular features of Maoism
and the post-1949 Chinese Communist experience, and (b) demonstrating the
programmatic and organizational affinity between Maoism and Stalinism. Les was
much more interested than Tom was in writing about the former, while Tom seemed
to think the latter should be the focus of everything we wrote about China and
its Maoist leadership. Les also favoured a somewhat more relaxed, eclectic
approach to the SWP's coverage of China in its publications. For example, he was
very favourably impressed by Livio Maitan's book on China, which avoided
hard-and-fast characterizations of the Maoists and focussed instead on trying to
analyze the contradictory forces at work inside the Chinese revolution and, in
particular, Mao's "cultural revolution".

This was also Joe Hansen's approach in Intercontinental Press, which published
often-conflicting analyses of events in China from the press and individual
contributors within the international Trotskyist movement.

The difference was not really over "concessions to the Chinese Communists" - no
one in the SWP, after Arne Swabeck's exit (and he had been preceded by Sam Marcy
and his group, now the Workers World Party -- where are you, Lou Paulsen?)
advocated programmatic adaptations to Maoism or argued that Mao's policies
differed in substance from Stalin's. The difference in tone, or nuance was real,
however, and is best illustrated by the respective books: Les Evans's China
After Mao (Monad [Pathfinder] Press, 1978), and Tom Kerry's The Mao Myth and the
Legacy of Stalinism in China (Pathfinder Press, 1977, edited by Les Evans). Even
the titles indicate the contrast in approach.

The organizers of the conference on American Trotskyism had scheduled a
presentation on Tom Kerry's contribution. Unfortunately, this discussion was
foreclosed when the assigned guest speaker, Nat Weinstein, set aside his notes
and instead launched into a tiresome harangue of generalities we had all heard a
hundred times before that had nothing to do with Kerry. Tom deserved better.

BTW, for a fascinating and instructive discussion of the evolution of Trotsky's
views on China and the pre-revolution Maoists, I recommend the editors' preface
to Leon Trotsky on China (Monad Press, 1976), by Les Evans and Russell Block.
Also of interest is the lengthy introductory article by Peng Shu-tse, one of the
founders of the Chinese CP.

As to Bert Cochran's article on China's industrial and agricultural progress in
the late 1950s, keep in mind that this forced march, which was similar in many
respects to Stalin's forced industrialization in the early 1930s, created chaos
in the Chinese economy and was a factor in the breach with Moscow and the
internal feuding in the CCP that led directly to Mao's "cultural revolution"
with all of its attendant horrors - the popular revulsion from which ultimately
boosted the fortunes of the "capitalist liners" in the CCP over Mao's faction
following his death. It was also motivated by and fully consistent with the
"socialism in one country" approach most fully articulated by Stalin and his
Comintern. The Chinese workers and peasants continue to pay a heavy price for
the affinities between Maoism and Stalinism.

Richard Fidler
rfidler at

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